Charles Laughton was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, England, in 1899. His parents were innkeepers. Although he underwent officer's training at Stonyhurst College, he enlisted as an Army private for Britain during World War I where he was poisoned by mustard gas.
Laughton began his career in the family business before enrolling at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
He made his first West End stage appearance in 1926 at the age of 27. A brilliant elocutionist, Laughton performed at The Old Vic and Royal Shakespeare Company in 10 productions through 1960. Laughton made his British film debut in a silent short reel starring his future wife, the actress Elsa Lanchester, in 1928.
He and his wife traveled to New York in 1931 to appear in Payment Deferred on Broadway. The next year, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made a film version and cast Laughton in the lead role for his U.S. motion picture debut.
In 1934, he received his only Actor Academy Award for The Private Life Of Henry VIII. His was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar twice more for Mutiny On The Bounty (1935) and Witness For The Prosecution (1957).
He and the legendary German silent film producer Erich Pommer teamed up to found Mayflower Pictures in England and produced three films starring Laughton. The films were unsuccessful and the company was saved from bankruptcy when RKO Pictures offered Laughton the role of Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Laughton and Pommer had plans to make further films, but the outbreak of World War II meant the end of the company.
Laughton also wrote, directed and produced both stage plays and motion pictures. He directed the hit play The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial on Broadway in 1954. The next year, Laughton directed the feature The Night of the Hunter (1955), starring Robert Mitchum. The film was initially panned and Laughton never directed for the cinema again.
He married Elsa Manchester in 1929. In her autobiography, Lanchester revealed that Laughton was bisexual. According to her own account, she was shocked to learn about this, but eventually decided to remain married to him. She was not interested in raising children and this was a source of great disappointment for Laughton.
In 1962, after a film career spanning more than 50 features, Laughton died of cancer of the gall bladder in Hollywood, at the age of 63, 6 months after the release of his last film.